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My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Woodland Trust and I welcome the Government’s commitment to net zero carbon as enshrined in this instrument. I will make two very brief points. First, to reach this target, we have to move away from fossil fuels—I commend in that regard the noble Baroness’s speech immediately prior to mine—but we also have to undo some of the damage already done. One way to do that on a large scale is to plant more trees. Trees eat atmospheric carbon for breakfast. The Committee on Climate Change has called for a 9% increase in tree cover in this country. If that is to be done in the next 12 and a half years, which is the deadline calculated by the IPCC for having any hope of keeping temperature rises to below 1.5 degrees, it means 74 million trees a year. The Government’s current target is 11 million trees in the five-year lifetime of this Parliament—although who knows what that is going to be? In reality, in the past six months the Government have not even met their own target. According to figures kindly provided by Defra, government action resulted in the planting of fewer than 500,000 trees in the past six months. That is a long way off the rate required.
I recognise that the Government have now put in place some £60 million of additional funding for tree planting in the interests of combating climate change, but that is still not enough. The amendment is therefore fully justified. We need rapid clarity on how the target will be delivered. Unless planting rates are increased 50-fold, the tree element of the CO2 reduction plan will simply fail. It can be done and it will have huge additional benefits, for biodiversity as well as a range of human health and resilience effects, reduction in heat, water resource protection, flood risk management and air quality improvement. So it is worth doing, it is effective, but it needs to be done faster. The Government’s commitment is admirable in principle, but it needs urgent practical action in the next 12 years, and not by 2050, if the impact of tree planting is to have results. So I commend the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, about just doing it.
I make this comment to critics of the target. We are not doing ourselves a service by being mealy-mouthed about the costs of doing nothing. I understand entirely why the climate change committee has taken a conservative approach and does not want to try to estimate the costs of not hitting the target. But the reality is that we do not need to do that; we simply need to ask the insurance industry globally. It has recognised the impact of floods, of heat, of ecosystem destruction, and the impacts on agriculture. It is already paying out for those effects. Ask the insurance industry if you are in any doubt about whether the investment that we are envisaging is worth while.